Chase Ultimate Rewards is a transferable points program available through a number of Chase cards. In my comparison of transferable points programs, Chase Ultimate Rewards came out ahead of Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Capital One “Miles.” Chase offers a great combination of easy-to-earn points and both easy and valuable point redemptions. Those who are primarily interested in luxury international award flights will likely do even better with Amex, but if you’re interested in hotel awards, domestic flights, or miscellaneous travel value, Chase is a great pick.
Chase recently announced an overhaul of their fee-free consumer Ultimate Rewards cards. The Chase Freedom Visa card is being replaced with the new Freedom Flex Mastercard, but with the same 5X quarterly rotating categories as before. And both the Freedom Flex and the Freedom Unlimited card gain 3X rewards for drugstore and dining purchases and 5X rewards for travel booked through Chase. Since both cards earn Ultimate Rewards points, these changes make the Ultimate Rewards program more compelling than ever before.
Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points can be earned primarily via new account bonuses, referral bonuses, and credit card spend. As long as you have at least one Ultimate Rewards card with an annual fee, those points can then be transferred to airline or hotel partners, used to pay for travel at better than 1 cent per point value.
Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about Chase Ultimate Rewards…
Ultimate Rewards cards no longer available to new applicants
Some Chase banking products also earn Ultimate Rewards points bonuses. If you can find a good signup bonus (like this expired one), you can earn as many as 60,000 points that way. Similar offers occasionally surface for things like new mortgage accounts, though you’ll want to be sure you’re getting the best rate along with your points.
Keep in mind that points earned through banking are generally taxable. However, unlike points earned from Citi’s banking products, Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned from bank account bonuses can be transferred to airline partners or combined with another member of your household.
Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for cash. That said, there are a few ways in which it is possible to get more value:
- “Pay Yourself Back”: Up to 1.5 cents per point value.
- Redeem points for travel: Up to 1.5 cents per point value.
- Transfer points to airline and hotel partners: Value depends on how your airline or hotel points are used.
Move Points to a Premium Card First
Points earned on fee-free Ultimate Rewards cards are not directly eligible for any of the above better-than-one-cent-per-point redemptions, but you can move points first to a premium card (Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred, for example) or ultra-premium card (Sapphire Reserve) in order to get the best value from your points. In fact, you only need one premium or ultra-premium card per household since points can be freely moved from one card to another within a single household. A family working together, for example, could have a single Sapphire Reserve card and use that one card as the vehicle for redeeming points. All points earned on the family’s other Ultimate Rewards cards (Freedom, Ink, etc.) would be moved to the Sapphire Reserve account for that purpose.
Pay Yourself Back
It appears that Chase will change the eligible categories every few months. When using this feature, Sapphire Reserve cardholders get 1.5 cents per point value and all other eligibile cardholders get 1.25 cents per point value. Plus, cardholders earn points on the same purchases! More details about Chase's Pay Yourself Back feature can be found here.
- Redeem points for travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal at a value of 1.25 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred
- Redeem points for travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal for 1.5 cents value with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Redeeming points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portalWith many no-annual-fee Chase credit cards, you can redeem points for travel booked via Chase Ultimate Rewards at a rate of just 1 cent per point (or you could alternatively book travel anywhere and cash out your points for a statement credit at a value of $0.01 each). As an example, if you have a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, a $600 flight would cost you about 60,000 points. See this example of a flight that costs $601.20 or 60,120 Ultimate Rewards points. However, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Business Preferred card, you'll get 1.25 cents per point value. The same example flight would cost just 48,096 points when booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. You'll get the most value with the Chase Sapphire Reserve at 1.5 cents per point. The same example flight would cost just 40,080 points with the CSR when booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Cardholders can book airfare, hotels, cruises, and car rentals in this way. Airfare purchased via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal still earns airline miles and elite qualifying miles. Hotels booked this way do not earn hotel rewards. Worse, hotels booked via the Ultimate Rewards portal often will not offer you elite benefits even if you have status.
Fortunately, when you pay with points for travel, Chase's automatic travel protections do apply. So, you can be covered for things like trip delays, trip cancellation & interruption, lost luggage, etc. The coverage you receive will be based on which card's rewards were used to book the trip. For example, if you have both a Chase Sapphire Preferred and a Sapphire Reserve, you would want to move your Ultimate Rewards points from the Preferred to the Reserve and then use the Reserve points to book your trip. You will get both better value (1.5 cents per point) and better travel protections.
The following chart summarizes travel insurance provided automatically by each Ultimate Rewards card. Cells in green indicate best in class coverage, yellow indicates good coverage, red indicates worse than peers' coverage. "Pay partial" means that you can get full coverage even if you pay only part of your transportation costs with this card. For example, you could pay just the taxes and fees for an award flight. Or, you could pay part of a cruise with gift cards and the rest with the credit card. See Ultimate Rewards credit card travel insurance for a more detailed comparison beyond this chart summary.
|Sapphire Reserve||Sapphire Preferred||Ink Business Preferred||Ink Cash, Ink Business Unlimited||Freedom, Freedom Flex, Freedom Unlimited|
|Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver||Primary||Primary||Primary for Business*||Primary for Business*||Secondary*|
|Roadside Assistance||4X per year limit||Pay per use||Pay per use||Pay per use||Pay per use|
|Trip Cancellation and Interruption||Pay partial||Pay partial||Pay partial||N/A||Pay partial|
|Trip Delay||6 hour delay Pay partial||12 hour delay Pay partial||12 hour delay Pay partial||N/A||N/A|
|Lost Luggage||Pay partial||Pay partial||Pay partial||N/A||N/A|
|Baggage Delay||6 hour delay Pay partial||6 hour delay Pay partial||6 hour delay Pay partial||6 hour delay Pay partial||N/A|
|Travel Accident Insurance||Pay partial||Pay partial||Pay partial||Pay partial||N/A|
|Emergency Evacuation and Transportation||$100K limit Pay partial||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Emergency Medical and Dental||$2,500 limit Pay partial||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
* Each of these cards offers primary coverage outside of your country of residence. Unfortunately, the Ink Cash, Ink Business Unlimited, Freedom, Freedom Flex, and Freedom Unlimited cards all incur foreign transaction fees outside of your country of residence.
If you would like to use points earned on other cards with a card like the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve, combine your Ultimate Rewards points with other cards in your name or with one other member of your household or business partner.
The best use of Ultimate Rewards points, in my opinion, is to transfer points to airline and hotel partners in order to book high value awards. Your best bet is usually to wait until you find a great flight or night award before transferring points. Points transfer at a ratio of 1:1 as shown in the list of transfer partners below. Keep in mind that while transfers are instantly posted to most loyalty programs, transfers to Singapore Krisflyer and Marriott Bonvoy are not instant.
|Rewards Program||Chase Transfer Ratio||Best Uses|
|Air France KLM Flying Blue||1 to 1||Monthly Air France Promo Awards often represent very good value. Air France miles can be used to book Sky Team awards, including Delta awards.|
|Avios||1 to 1||While flights on British Airways itself often incur outrageously high fuel surcharges, many BA partners charge low or no fuel surcharges. Great value can be had in redeeming BA points for short distance flights. Iberia offers very low award prices on their own flights. Round trip partner awards can offer good value under some circumstances as well. Fuel surcharges are often lower than when booking through British Airways. Aer Lingus shares the "Avios" currency with British Airways and Iberia. In most cases it is best to move points to one of those programs in order to book awards for less.|
|Emirates Skywards||1 to 1|
|Emirates has different award charts for each airline partner. Sometimes they allow one-way awards, sometimes they do not. In general, award prices are fairly high, but there are a few sweet spots such as New York to Milan for 90K round trip in business class.|
|Hyatt||1 to 1||Use for Hyatt free nights or points + cash nights. Hyatt points are often worth at least 1.7 cents each towards free nights, but they’re sometimes worth far more. One hidden bonus: award nights are not subject to resort fees.|
|IHG||1 to 1|
|JetBlue||1 to 1||JetBlue points offer the most value when cheap ticket prices are available and when award taxes are high relative to the overall cost of the ticket (more details can be found here). The JetBlue Plus Card and the JetBlue Business Card offer a 10% rebate on awards, so you can get more value by holding one of these cards.|
|Marriott Bonvoy||1 to 1||5th Night Free awards|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1 to 1||Use to book Singapore Airlines First Class awards (generally reserved for their own members) or for Star Alliance awards. Low change fees and no close-in booking fees make this a very good program for booking United Airlines flights.|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards||1 to 1||Award flights are fully refundable. Point values vary due to certain taxes not being charged on awards, but tend to average around 1.5 cents per point.|
|United MileagePlus||1 to 1|
|Even though Singapore Airlines miles have a number of advantages over United miles for booking Star Alliance flights, United has advantages too. For one, it is possible to book most Star Alliance awards online at United.com. Additionally, United awards sometimes cost fewer miles with United than with Singapore (especially premium awards on United’s own flights). And, most importantly, United never charges fuel surcharges for awards. In some cases, United is far cheaper than Singapore Airlines for this reason alone.|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1 to 1||Virgin Atlantic miles can be usefully thought of as a way to get a discount off Virgin Atlantic flights (high fuel surcharges make the flights far from free), but there are some better uses. Use miles to upgrade paid flights or to fly partner airlines. A fantastic use is to fly ANA in business or first class thanks to Virgin’s generous ANA partner award chart. Or, if you can find saver level Delta awards for nonstop international travel, you can often book through Virgin Atlantic far cheaper than with Delta directly. Virgin Atlantic also offers great award prices for Air France premium economy awards.|
Chase Ultimate Rewards cardholders can redeem points for 1 cent each either as statement credits or as cash back. Cash back can be taken as a statement credit or via check or ACH transfer.
You can also use points to pay some merchants directly (Amazon.com, for example or via Chase Pay). Don't do this. These options offer very poor value. Further, they may compromise the security of your account (i.e. if someone hacks into your Amazon account, they might spend your Ultimate Rewards points - causing you a headache in getting your points reinstated).
Sweet spot awards
- Domestic US flights
- Caribbean / Latin America
- Australia / New Zealand / Oceania
If you intend to cancel a Chase Ultimate Rewards card, you should first combine your points with a card you intend to keep active. Once you cancel, you will forfeit any unused points in that account (See: My 90,000 Ultimate Rewards Points mistake). A product change should not affect your balance, but some people prefer moving points before a product change as well just to be safe.
Why this is valuable:
- You earn points with the card offering the best return on purchases and then use points with the card offering the best redemption rate.
- Only one member of your household needs to maintain a premium card for transferring to partners or booking travel (though note that the primary cardholder can only transfer points to partner loyalty programs in the name of the primary cardholder or authorized users).
Transfer difficulties? Create a loopIf you have trouble transferring between accounts, some users have been able to combine points between their own accounts — like from Bob’s Ink Business Cash to Bob’s Sapphire Reserve — via secure message.
However, you may run into an issue if you try to connect more than one of your cards to a single card that belongs to someone else. Chase allows you to combine/transfer to someone else who lives in your household (or a co-owner of your business for business cards), but I’ve had complications with this from time to time.
For example, let’s say that Joe and Suzy live in the same household and are joint owners of a business and have the following accounts:
Joe first combines points from his Freedom Unlimited to Suzy’s Sapphire Reserve. Later, he logs into his Ink Business Cash account and tries to combine points with Suzy’s Sapphire Reserve. Joe may run into an error adding Suzy’s Sapphire Reserve card to combine points. This has happened in our household several times. In that case, Joe should log into his Freedom Unlimited account and remove Suzy as a household member (click “remove saved card). About 24 hours later, he should be able to add Suzy to his Ink Business Cash in order to combine his points to her account.
The easy solution I’ve found is to create a loop. In the example scenario they should transfer like this:
Joe’s Freedom Unlimited —> Joe’s Ink Business Cash —> Suzy’s Sapphire Reserve —> Joe’s Freedom Unlimited
Creating a loop chain has solved that problem in my household. As noted, it took 24 hours after removing accounts to re-add them to other cards, so be aware of that limitation.